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5 ways to use your ICS experience to get ahead

Back from placement and looking to move your career forward? Why not show employers how setting up girls’ clubs in Bangladesh makes you a great project manager? Or how delivering sexual health sessions in Kenya developed your communication skills? 

For International Youth Day, young people in five ICS countries were awarded grants to put on events around the theme of youth employability. We spoke to each to find out their top tip for using your ICS experience to get ahead. 

An ICS volunteer sits next to a student as they work from a computer
© Raleigh / Paul Walsh
Tell your future employer what you've accomplished during ICS, making sure to use examples

1. Talk about your ICS experience

“Applying for jobs means selling yourself to a potential employer who should pick you over other applicants. It’s going to be your ICS experience that sets you out from the crowd,” said Nicolaus Novatus, a youth development officer at Raleigh Tanzania. 

“This is your time to tell your potential employers about your accomplishments during the programme. Use the opportunities you’re given to demonstrate the technical hands-on work that you completed, with the leadership skills you gained during your placement.” 

As ICS volunteer Lucy Ellison explained: “Being able to describe how you facilitated a session on puberty for a classroom of 83 kids speaking a language you didn’t understand, or how you organised a performance about the dangers of substance abuse for a rural community, will almost certainly give you the advantage over somebody who has simply passed through education.  

“Refer to experiences you’ve had on the programme to show employers just how well you can adapt to completely new situations, what skills you’ve developed, and the challenges you’ve faced along the way and how these obstacles have been overcome.” 

ICS’ new learning curriculum features something we call the ‘personal development wheel’. It’s a reflective tool that allows volunteers to assess at different points through their ICS placement how they’re progressing with skills like communication or budget management. 

And it’s something you can do on placement or not. Note down examples of how you’ve learnt new skills through your volunteering placement, internship or job, and how you’ve used these skills – it’ll be really helpful to refer back to this when you’re applying for jobs or courses in the future. 

An ICS volunteer works with a student on a flipchart poster
© VSO / Suraj Ratna Shakya
67% of ICS volunteers go on to find work in development-related activities

2. Continue building your development portfolio

Want to break into the development sector? You’re not the only one. Competition is tough and jobs are limited. But three months of on-the-ground, practical experience is a valuable boost for your CV. 

“Set up a LinkedIn profile and connect with individuals working within NGOs and the specific career fields you’re interested in working in,” says volunteer Liona Williams, who volunteered in Zambia. “This is great to do, even while you’re on placement, as you can share with your network news about the work you’ve been doing.  

“When you return, write a short summary of your experience on ICS and include it on the ‘volunteering’ segment of your LinkedIn profile. Be sure to include statistics if you have them about the impact of your team’s work – and link your profile with the VSO and ICS accounts on LinkedIn.” 

A volunteer holds a microphone smiling during a panel discussion
© VSO / Becky Mursell
Make connections with our global network of ICS volunteers to help you get ahead

3. Make new connections – and use the ones you’ve just gained 

ICS is a great experience – but it’s what you choose to do with it afterwards that will advance your career. There are 40,000 like-minded ICS volunteers like you. Make connections with these future leaders to advance your career and personal development! 

“As an ICS alumnus, I think it’s really important to network and get out there and show the world who you are,” said Raleigh ICS Team Leader Tahira Kulsoom. “That will only happen when you talk to people and have those conversations, otherwise no-one will know.” 

We asked five ICS alumni for their top tips on how to speak in public and network effectively: 

Do you know how to network and speak in public effectively? Find out how
An ICS volunteer holds a selfie frame in front of his face as he poses for a photo
ICS volunteer Kenneth's experience of unemployment inspired him to do something about it

4. Start a project in your community 

Kenyan ICS volunteer Kenneth Ramah’s experience with unemployment – and seeing other young people struggling to find work – inspired him to do something about it after placement. He used the contacts and soft skills developed through ICS to get ahead. 

“I’ve seen so many friends and young people around me either unemployed or underemployed, despite having degrees and a good education. I felt the need to create a safe space that would bring Nairobi youth together. 

“ICS gave me the confidence to just take the initiative and get passionate about helping others see the value of creating positive change. My project now helps young people talk about their challenges in finding work and share opportunities that will help each other.” 

Kenneth’s project was funded with an ICS In-Country Volunteer Grant – funding of up to £1,000 GBP for a youth-led activity supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Applications are currently closed, but find out more about how and when to apply. 

Don’t forget to check other sources of funding near you – local government, INGOs and NGOs and even crowdfunding can be great ways to get your project off the ground with a little financial help. 

An ICS youth club member stands up to speak with a microphone
“Don’t think that because you don’t have a vocational education you can’t create your own niche."

5. Don’t wait for a job to come to you – create your own

Tanzid Nahid Mustafa is the project assistant for NYEN, the ICS national network of ICS alumni and local young people committed to lifelong active citizenship. His advice is to take the skills you’ve developed on placement and use them to start your own business: 

“The experience you’ve had – working in different contexts, building a strong team, bringing your innovative ideas into reality – all of these are crucial talents for people going into self-employment.  

“Don’t think that because you don’t have a vocational education you can’t create your own niche. Combine the knowledge and skills you’ve gained from ICS with the ideas you think you have a chance at developing. Endeavour to become the self-driven, self-employed individual.” 

ICS is a great opportunity to practice your soft skills – many of which will be vital if you’re starting your own initiative. Think about the kind of elements you’d like to improve on (public speaking, anyone?) – and look at using the personal development wheel we explained in #1 to see how you’re progressing with these over time. 

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Funded by the UK Government.

ICS is funded by the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which projects the UK as a force for good in the world, including reducing poverty and tackling global challenges.

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